I’m pretty much an open book about my life (though there are some things that I prefer not to talk about, especially here on the Internet in an open forum). Friends find it surprising that I’m as open about my HIV status as I am. I’ll admit being open about my status on the Internet does give me “some” cause for concern occasionally (especially whereas future employment is concerned) but I think it’s incumbent upon all of us to do what we can to share with others, the lessons we have learned over the course of our lives to date.
I’ve made many mistakes; I’m no angel and certainly not perfect by any reach of the definition. However, I try to live my life as genuinely as possible (meaning simply that I try to be authentic and honest at all times). Sometimes fear gets in the way and I might permit the rare “white lie via omission” (provided, doing so doesn’t put anyone’s life at risk).
At any rate, I’m a member of a group of POZ members on a popular social networking site where a recent discussion resulted in comments about having unprotected sex with your partner, provided both parties are already HIV-positive. The suggestion was that there was no risk if both persons were already exposed to the virus. Speaking only for myself here and not being a trained medical profession, I had to take exception to the direction in which the conversation was going. All that I’ve been told, since being advised in 2001 of my own exposure, suggests that “cross-infection” is and remains a real concern for those living with HIV.
Here’s one of the things you need to know about this virus; it isn’t a “one size fits all” virus. There are a growing number of different strains of HIV. The way that the virus reacts and mutates in one person may be entirely different from the effect that it has on another. Because of this and as the virus mutates, some strains of HIV have grown resistant to certain classes of drugs that are used to treat or prevent the virus from further compromising the patient’s immune system. (It’s this ability to mutate that has made it so difficult for researchers to find a “cure” for the virus.)
What does this mean for those who are having sex, regardless of their HIV status? Well, in my opinion it means we need to maintain healthy sex practices and always make condoms a part of our sexual experience when the health status of one of the participants is either “in question” or “known to be HIV-positive.”
Seriously, why is it so important that you have sex without a condom? Regardless of however more sensual the experience might be, it just doesn’t make sense to me. The added titillation does not justify the risk. While some STDs might be treatable (or even curable), many are “lifetime companions” once you’ve been exposed. Is the time it takes for a “happy ending” really worth the added aggravation?
Know your partner; know the risks!
As regards cross-infections and my response on the topic over on Facebook, what follows is my comment. I encourage you to read it so that you have a better understanding of why I feel as I do about unprotected sex between persons who are both HIV-positive.
I’m glad to see that this topic is being given some more thought and discussed a bit more in-depth. (I was somewhat put off by the responses in the other thread, which seemed to suggest that there simply wasn’t any cause for concern.)
It’s true that the CDC (and pretty much examples of ANY GROUP for that matter, regardless of the topic – be it about HIV or any kind of sexually transmitted disease, or any other topic) can at times take the alarmist route. This results in information that is either difficult or impossible to gauge, as to real accuracy. Another said, “I find the risk of getting ANY new STD’s to be not worth taking!” I tend to agree with that analogy, for the most part. (Let’s face it; even condoms are not foolproof and abstinence isn’t my cup of tea so there is “some” risk … but I choose to minimize it as best I can.)
Regardless of whether or not you believe in the idea of a super-infection, studies “have” shown that some strains of the virus are resistant to certain drug classes. And “even if” the likelihood of becoming exposed to a new strain of the virus is low-risk if your viral load is undetectable and you’re on meds, all that I have read and been told by the medical establishment seems to support the contention that a “risk does exist.” (Granted, we can’t go through our entire lives not taking any risks at all, imo, but we can make reasonable decisions as to what risks are deemed “acceptable.”)
My only reason for bringing this up in the other thread stemmed from the fact that I’m of the impression that there are some in this group who have only recently been diagnosed HIV-positive … and they should have the benefit of “as much information as they can, in order to make their own decisions and effectively gauge their own risks” as to what may or may not affect their future health.
[Name omitted here for privacy reasons] has described a long list of problems he has had to contend with because of the virus (and I’ve known and considered [him] to be a friend of mine for quite a number of years now). I myself was only diagnosed positive when I left an abusive ex in 2001 but consequently, have had to endure months of chemo for Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (stage 3B) in 2006 that damn near took my life. For me, I’ve no problem involving myself with another person, REGARDLESS of his HIV status but having unprotected sex is no longer an option. (More so because I don’t wish to expose anyone else to my strain of the virus but also because I really have no desire to screw with the present effectiveness of the drugs I am taking.)
It is only my opinion and I am no doctor, but I feel it’s just not worth the risk unless (and this is only after some further thought)… In my opinion and from what I’ve read, if It’s absolutely certain that the two persons having unprotected sex are both HIV-positive and were exposed to “the SAME strain of the virus” (meaning that one of the two exposed the other to HIV), both are monogamous (with one another), viral loads (for both) are undetectable and BOTH are effectively being treated with HIV meds — ONLY under this scenario (from what I’ve read) does the risk appear to be EXTREMELY LOW that a cross-infection could occur. (Primarily because the strains for both are the same already and both patients are likely reacting similarly to their drug treatment, meaning no resistance to drug therapy is evident.)
I don’t consider myself to be an alarmist person; I just believe we should be honest (and don’t take that the wrong way; it’s not intended as a slight to anybody here) with ourselves and with others and speak openly about what living with HIV is like. Yes, we’re “LIVING” – but to do so, the vast majority of those living with HIV are on HIV therapies (and such therapies/drugs more often than not always introduce other wonderful little consequences into our lives). As a for-instance, the chemo I had to take to survive NHL in 2006 has raised (exponentially) my risk of heart disease, the older I get. Was it worth it? Yes, because I would have been dead today if I’d not undergone the treatment – but the fact of the matter is I’d like to save somebody else the trouble if I can.
Sorry for the long-*** comment. Take care boys and girls and I’m glad to see an honest discussion of this going on here.
In closing, whereas unprotected sex between two “HIV-positive” partners is concerned… The risk of cross-infection [may] be low (depending on certain other factors) but the threat is real all the same. “Cover it up” (use a condom).